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#1 2013-06-28 11:17:59

jasonrohrer
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Registered: 2013-04-01
Posts: 1,231

Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

With the release of version 9, I was trying to change the direction and feel of The Castle Doctrine, pushing it away from a puzzle designing-and-solving game and toward a tactical, Roguelike, designing-and-bypassing game.

The solution in v9 was unlimited backpack slots, and for the most part, it worked.  However, there were a few existing negative dynamics that were magnified by this change.

As intended, robbers are much more powerful in v9, in that, with enough money, they can bypass anything with tools, regardless of their skill.  However, money is scarce and always at risk of being stolen out from under you, so acquiring enough money to buy enough tools to brute-force bypass good security requires skill.  Or at least it should.

grinding.jpg

These lingering negative dynamics can loosely be grouped together as grinding.  Yeah, it might seem like players grind against their own best interest, because grinding isn't an interesting way to play.  However, it's the game's fault for letting them do it in the first place.  The game is essentially whispering, "Hey you, pssst, over here.  You can play me in this skill-free way too.  In fact, that's how I'm meant to be played."  Of course, players listen to what the game is telling them.

Problem 1:  Grinding past dogs

The first grind-inducing problem is that you start each new life with $2000.  You might spend this building a new house, but you might also spend this on tools.  In version 8, $2000 would buy not very much house but quite a lot of tools---however, you could only carry 8 tools at a time, so starting tool purchases were not overpowered.  In v9 where you can carry an unlimited number of items, tool prices were raised dramatically to compensate for this.  For the v9 price of $100, that crowbar better be made in Switzerland out of forged titanium alloy.  However, even at this ridiculously steep price, you can still buy 20 of them with your new-life allowance.

fineCrowbar.jpg

20 crowbars means 20 dead pit bulls.  By exploiting the mechanics of dog movement (dogs refuse to walk over other dead dogs, and dogs keep getting closer each time you use a tool), it is possible to bypass loads of dogs with those 20 crowbars.

It turns out that dogs are the best way of protecting family members (the family likes dogs as pets, but they refuse to stand near mechanical traps).  But if the robber is coming in with 20 crowbars, the family becomes impossible to protect, in practice, with your starting house budget no matter how you arrange the dogs.

Pit_Bull_with_baby_1892.jpg

Should the price of the crowbar go up even more?  After all, the gun in v9 costs $1000.  The idea is that the gun shoots safely from a distance, whereas the crowbar must be used while standing right next to your potentially perma-deadly target.

Note that 20 saws, which you can also afford with your starting $2000, are not as much of a problem.  Yeah, you can cut through lots of walls with those, but you need to know where to cut.  The crowbar is rather unique in the way that it interacts with moving threats.

But no, I didn't want to raise the cost of the crowbar.  You have to be standing next to a target to used it.  That should be dangerous.  The crowbar should be cheap as a result.  I decided to focus on making the crowbar more dangerous to use.

As it stood, dog positioning had little tactical impact.  If a dog is next to you, you can use a crowbar on it.  If a dog is an odd number of steps away, you can take steps toward it, as it steps toward you, and eventually be standing right next to it.  If a dog is an even number of steps away, it seems like you're stuck, since taking steps away preserves the distance, while taking steps toward it will eventually result in a final step where the dog lands right on top of you.  However, in v9, you could rectify this situation by using a tool somewhere---on a wall or anywhere---which would also trigger the dog to take a step without you taking a step.  After that, the dog would be an odd number of steps away.  What if there was no place to use a tool?  You could always fall back on throwing the incredibly cheap drugged meat, which was supposedly balanced by turning a pit bull into a sleeping land mine.  However, a sleeping pit bull is even easier to approach and club than a lively one in v9.

This all seemed wrong to me, because it rendered dogs useless as security in the game, where I had wanted them to be the most tactically rich part of the game.  In v10, I changed the movement mechanics so that animals do not move when you use a tool.  Now if they're an odd number of steps away, there is no simple way to change that.  I also made drugged animals unkillable, so they really do turn into sleeping land mines.  Yes, drugged meat is very cheap, but there's now a properly-huge trade-off, since you can block yourself in by using it carelessly.

Now clever placement of dogs can provide viable security for family members.  Consider this simple device, which ensures that the dog is always one tile away from the robber, no matter how the robber approaches:

9070350518_f4f79251f5_o.png

Yes, there are ways to bypass this device, but they all require careful, tactical play.  You have to study the situation and find a weakness.  Marching in there with 20 crowbars will accomplish nothing, even against this lone dog.  There's no way to grind your way through dog-based security.  Well, except if you've got thousands of dollars to waste on loads of guns.  But there's no way to accomplish that without skill, right?

Problem 2:  Grinding across multiple lives

The second grind-inducing problem is that you start each new life with $2000.  Yeah, that should sound familiar from above.  However, this grind-strategy also exploits the way that death works.

There is a stiff penalty for dying---you lose everything, including your current house which you may have spent hours building.  But what if you have nothing to lose?  And when you start a fresh life with $2000, you have exactly nothing to lose, because dying at that point will bring you right back to another fresh life and $2000 more.

lifeCycle.jpg

Thus, that initial $2000 is totally free of both cost and consequence.

In some ways, this is a good thing, because it creates at least two different classes in the player population:  those who have accumulated wealth and become risk-adverse, and those who have nothing to lose and are still risk-taking.  Both classes are needed for the game to function well as a whole.

classes.jpg

However, I want all parts of the game to be deep and interesting, no matter what class you are currently in.  In v9, since the fresh-life player faces no real consequences, they have no interesting or tense decisions to make.  Why not just plow ahead into a dangerous house?  If you die, then just plow ahead into the same house again.  Keep trying.  Maybe after enough grinding, you'll stumble your way through via trial and error.

The other factor here is that the player has $2000 to blow on each of these throw-away lives.  Combine this with the fact that unused tools are dropped into the target house's vault upon robber death, and throw-away death robbers are motivated to carry a full load-out every time.  This increases the payout if they ever manage to break through.  You can easily do this many times per minute on a given house, which means that you can pump the value of a house up by $600K or more every hour.  Even if the perpetrator doesn't break through for the payoff themselves, it still results in an unnatural economic spike that can be gratifying to create.

Furthermore, the same dynamic can be exploited on weaker houses that a robber knows how to bypass.  Why not pump $10K into the house first, across a five lives, before finally bypassing it?  Yeah, there is a risk that some other robber will come along and snatch the payout before you do, but if so, you can just repeat the same trick again.  Eventually, you will succeed. 

A fresh-life robber who pulls this off suddenly has way more at their disposal than the previously-mentioned 20 crowbars.  How about an unlimited supply of guns?  That was supposed to require skill to acquire, right?  And guess what?  Players were doing this all the time.  It had become the way to play the game.

Both of these problems are related to the consequence-free nature of death when you have just started a fresh life.  This issue has been discussed ever since v5, and for a while, adding some sort of static consequence seemed natural:  maybe some kind of timeout (where you can't respawn for X minutes after dying) or maybe some kind of financial penalty (where with each new life in quick succession, you start with a bit less money).

timeout.jpg
(Umm.... yeah, they actually make these.  Available in both navy and white.)

The problem with a timeout is---obviously---that it takes you out of the game.  Perhaps you have an hour to play today, but you make a mistake at the beginning of that hour and die, and then you spend the rest of your available time waiting in timeout.  The problem with the financial penalty is that it must be severe to properly deal with the issue of multi-life tool dumping (even if it's as severe as 50%, $2000 + $1000 + $500 + ... is still $4000).  Both of these mechanisms could be tweaked through some kind of dynamism (where the amount of time that passes between deaths is factored into the timeout or penalty), but this is complex under-the-hood behavior that is hard for players to reason about and needs explaining.

Furthermore, both solutions are overkill, because it's not fresh starts generally that are the core problem---starting fresh immediately to work on your own house again with a full $2000 is fine and should be encouraged.  The problem is starting fresh over and over to grind against the same target house.

The solution in v10 is to add a penalty for dying in a particular house:  a timeout before you can re-enter just that one house.  So, if you're trying to grind your way through across multiple lives, or you're trying to dump a bunch of tools by dying there, you'll be stopped right away by the fact that you have to wait an hour between such attempts.  The tools you dump will likely be taken by someone else in that time, and trial-and-error grinding is impractical when it must be spread out over days instead of minutes (again, some other player will likely get through via tactical skill before your slow trial-and-error method ever pays off).

And thematically, the per-house timeout fits.  After all, it was a little strange to be able to start new lives so burden-free in previous versions.  Your previous self and previous family are gone forever, but you move on without a care?  Now there is some trace of your previous life still lingering:  a temporary chill that prevents you from re-entering the house where you died.

windowGhost.jpg

In previous versions, there was plenty of tension surrounding death when working on your own house (you stood to lose the whole house you were working on), but not enough tension on robbery death in many cases (when you had nothing to lose).  Along with dealing with the multi-life grinding issues, this house-chill mechanic also adds needed tension to all robberies.

Which, when you think about it, is the same thing as eliminating grinding from robberies.

A full list of changes can be found here:

The Castle Doctrine Change Log

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#2 2013-06-28 15:39:03

Ludicrosity
Member
From: US
Registered: 2013-06-22
Posts: 144

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

As someone who first started playing this game in v9, I must admit to greedily abusing the "pump & dump" loophole. It was basically free money, and I just couldn't resist. I have been playing v10 a lot now and I think the changes work really well. Getting rid of the ability to generate unlimited piles of cash is a needed fix. However, I'm also excited about the new dog dynamics. I don't know about others, but this has influenced me to change my home design to be much more interesting. Before I just had an endless wall/pit with a necessary magic dance (here was one version), but this time I gradually built something more playable. Unfortunately I carelessly died while testing my own house... tongue but I'll see if I can get it rebuilt.

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#3 2013-06-28 16:05:57

jasonrohrer
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Registered: 2013-04-01
Posts: 1,231

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

Yep.... only time will tell where these changes take house design.

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#4 2013-06-28 16:06:57

bey bey
Member
Registered: 2013-04-20
Posts: 386

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

It's interesting - I wonder what people who started with v10 will bring to the game. My v9 house still was essentially based on v8 puzzle electronics and I think only Jere solved it properly just before I lost it to a crash. Now I have moved to a more v9ish design but there are some fiendish looking dog puzzle houses around - might be the way forward. Make the walls concrete and the labyrinth big enough and it will take a lot of guns, boombooms and skill to survive instead of just 30k in ladders.


In fact you can be batman.
(if he robbed houses and murdered families.)
- Dalleck

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#5 2013-06-28 19:46:06

jere
Member
Registered: 2013-05-31
Posts: 540

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

The addition of chills is a great change. It was quite frustrating to watch the same robber come into your house repeatedly and explore carefree. Then they pump and dump to make themselves ridiculously wealthy. Hey, I'm just as guilty as anyone else.

I kept saying that the proper way to learn the game was to not care about your first few houses or families. Build, test assumptions, rob willy nilly, rinse and repeat. I always felt that this approach was blasphemous to the design, but effective. Now, there's a reason to be a bit more cautious.

I find it interesting how much the game is changing for the better because of small tweaks. I don't think we've seen a new item since ladders and the major features like blueprints weren't necessarily the right direction. Instead, small things like salary, a change to backpack size, chills, etc. is driving the game. Clearly, this is a hard thing to balance and I think you're doing a good job! You should do a talk or something on the difficulties in balancing TCD.


Golden Krone Hotel - a vampire roguelike

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#6 2013-06-28 20:27:12

jasonrohrer
Administrator
Registered: 2013-04-01
Posts: 1,231

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

Yeah, it's kindof shocking how these seemingly tiny things have such a huge impact on the overall direction of the game, and on players' behavior in the game.

As a designer, it's dangerously tempting to fall for the "players will cooperate" fallacy---that they will play the game "the right way" or the way you imagine it being played.

Player cooperation has nothing to do with it!

It's also interesting that many people have expressed something like, "it feels bad to play this way, but I'm doing it anyway."  Guilty.  As you say, "blasphemous" to the design. 

You mean like reading Shakespeare while on the toilet, drunk?

Or this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKiIroiCvZ0

But really, the attitude shouldn't be one of shame.  It's not your fault.  It's my fault!  The game is broken if the way you end up playing is not the way it's meant to be played.  Mirror Go may piss off your opponent as bad manners---but there really is no such thing as bad manners within the rules of the game.

It's my job to fix it.

It's your job to break it.

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#7 2013-06-29 09:12:15

Blip
Member
Registered: 2013-05-07
Posts: 505

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

My favorite thing about the chills mechanic is how it balances lower value houses. A viable strategy that I've been utilizing is building a house that tricks people down certain routes and kills them with pit bulls. People will often come in, seeing that my house is only worth a few hundred bucks, with few or even no tools, and get killed while trying to scout it out. This gives the house protection from that person for an hour, allowing it to get some more money. It results in many lower houses getting kills, but then not instantly being cut through by the next life of the robber who died. However, magic dances for trapdoor paths, a popular strategy among the rich, don't get kills, and therefore can be tried repeatedly by a robber.


Current life: Not dead, but I have no clue who I am
The Life and Times of Christopher Alvin Harris
Record: 149 Paintings!

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#8 2013-06-29 10:21:11

bey bey
Member
Registered: 2013-04-20
Posts: 386

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

Well, even Mr Taber has about 30ish kills since that step onto the trapdoor somehow seems to enticing to pass up on. wink

But I know what you mean - there's lots of fiendish looking labyrinths out there where one small mistake can be your last if you didn't bring a big load of tools only to be able to escape safely.


In fact you can be batman.
(if he robbed houses and murdered families.)
- Dalleck

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#9 2013-06-29 18:28:55

jasonrohrer
Administrator
Registered: 2013-04-01
Posts: 1,231

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

Yes, this is good to hear!  It sounds like it's working as intended.

Furthermore, it's infinitely tunable, just like prices are, because the chill timeout can be adjusted all the way from 0 seconds to forever.

For the time being, I'm not doing any of this fine-tuning, because fine-tuning doesn't matter if the larger scale systems are out of whack.  Once they are all ironed out, however, we might find that the saw is a bit too expensive and the crowbar is a bit too cheap and the chill timer is a bit too short, etc.

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#10 2013-06-29 19:32:20

Raisane
Member
Registered: 2013-04-06
Posts: 36

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

i don't know if this is the right place but..

this idea i have can solve 2 problems:
-people pump a lot of money into a house
-people worry-free rob a house all the time with a lot of tools.

so here i was thinking, why not change the death of this game?
so my solution being is, that people don't lose their house when they go and rob another house and die, but that they do lose their house, when they get robbed.
if you add a weekly limit on a person being able to rob a single house, a person WILL make a house, and a person will feel free to rob other houses.

but... wouldn't they just carefree try to rob a house over and over again till they succeed? here is where the weekly limit comes in, let's say someone has 10 tries every week to rob the house of person X, he HAS to figure out to rob that house within 10 lives, or not succeed. (not needed, i just noticed this system will force a person to build a house that'll endure longer than the time it takes for them to go rob houses) (meaning that they can't leave their house empty as they go raid, because they'd die even before they finish robbing)

(MAYBE NOT SOLVED) will the big houses still make money?: i think that they'll indeed make less money, but the reason they got that amount of money, was by people carefree running into their house, because they'd respawn anyway. people will still try to rob their houses, but probably without tools -> i got no solution for this at this moment in time
(the idea i'm going to tell right now to fix this isn't thought out at all, and you should doubt it:) maybe allow locks on the vault itself, show in the room before a person enters it the lock on the vault, and make people buy the "keys" of it before entering, as people don't die anymore they can be more carefree, but what if they are forced to buy a key that will be given to the house owner if they fail, but i think that there should be more expensive locks on houses with higher rewards (of course they have to buy it), so that people will also rob houses that are semi-hard but have less reward


i haven't been on the forums for a LONG time, and haven't been playing, thus i don't know if this has been suggested already, and only suggested this out of what i read here.

ps , feel free to point out any weak points, i can try to fix those.

edit: this seems like it'll be a good way to fix the problem of these houses with their combination locks together with the "expensive tools" that you can buy in your "permanent backpack", as you can spent time robbing easier houses (a little elimination game to the top) and as you go to the top, you get more money, in which you can eliminate fellow high-money possessors, this'll create people who are actually #1 in the game, but there'll be people coming from below also aiming for that spot, and thus trying to rob the person who is at that moment #1, (someone can play this game for 2 weeks saving up money by beating up easier houses with the least amount of money spent possible, and then get a lot tools to rob the #1 person, but now they're #1 in money and have to make their room the one that is unbeatable)

btw, you actually still have the "robbers" and the "ones defending", as the robbers go to the top by robbing house by house after another, they're "fast" in robbing, and thus the time others have to rob their house will go down.
you also have to "ones defending" that'll rob a lot slower, and thus people robbing them get more time doing so, but their houses will be a lot harder to beat.

Last edited by Raisane (2013-06-29 20:37:11)

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#11 2013-06-29 22:09:07

Aggrons_shell
Member
Registered: 2013-06-29
Posts: 1

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

How do I get this new update .-.

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#12 2013-06-29 23:50:29

dalleck
Member
Registered: 2013-04-13
Posts: 250

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

Aggrons_shell wrote:

How do I get this new update .-.

http://thecastledoctrine.net/forums/vie … 2693#p2693

thecastledoctrine.net/ts/server.php?action=show_downloads&ticket_id=[YOUR DOWNLOAD CODE NUMBER]

for example  --->>>
thecastledoctrine.net/ts/server.php?action=show_downloads&ticket_id=XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX

Last edited by dalleck (2013-06-29 23:52:38)


The rich aren't safe. Nobody is safe. -jere                   ...but the smell wafts out from the pit, obviously. - Jason Rohrer

And the more dickish they are, the more I feel like beating a house to destruction after finally figuring it out. -bey bey

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#13 2013-06-30 00:08:51

Ludicrosity
Member
From: US
Registered: 2013-06-22
Posts: 144

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

As much as I am enjoying v10, I am also pulling my hair out. I've managed to kill myself while testing my own doggy labyrinth at least a dozen times so far. Each time I painstakingly reconstruct it, gather funds, etc. Then a simple slip of the finger - one space too far right/left and *poof* all gone. sad

I really need to be more careful.

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#14 2013-06-30 00:27:24

dalleck
Member
Registered: 2013-04-13
Posts: 250

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

Ludicrosity wrote:

As much as I am enjoying v10, I am also pulling my hair out. I've managed to kill myself while testing my own doggy labyrinth at least a dozen times so far. Each time I painstakingly reconstruct it, gather funds, etc. Then a simple slip of the finger - one space too far right/left and *poof* all gone. sad

I really need to be more careful.

Same here buddy.  It is all the more painful when it is so much work to build up that cash.


The rich aren't safe. Nobody is safe. -jere                   ...but the smell wafts out from the pit, obviously. - Jason Rohrer

And the more dickish they are, the more I feel like beating a house to destruction after finally figuring it out. -bey bey

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#15 2013-06-30 19:02:07

jasonrohrer
Administrator
Registered: 2013-04-01
Posts: 1,231

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

Raisane, give v10 a try.  I think it already fixes most of the issues that you're trying to address with your idea.

Permadeath is really central to this game, so I never plan on removing or changing that part of it.  I'm always seeking out other solutions to problems that preserve permadeath.

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#16 2013-07-01 08:37:46

Raisane
Member
Registered: 2013-04-06
Posts: 36

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

it seems like that instead of the combination lock, people brought back the "dance" you have to do in order to pass trapped doors, seeing as how you're only allowed to enter a room once, these dances are impossible to figure out. just wanted to say this for maybe a fix in V11

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#17 2013-07-01 08:57:05

bey bey
Member
Registered: 2013-04-20
Posts: 386

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

Well, they were never really gone. In v8, there was a slight surge of electronics because people had to conceal what they did. This time, at least, one can use tools to avoid dance traps. (Wire cutters on un-electrified floors...) It's a lot about tools, and sometimes cutting in the right place can get you around lots of dance traps...


In fact you can be batman.
(if he robbed houses and murdered families.)
- Dalleck

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#18 2013-07-03 16:55:39

paciferal
Member
From: TX
Registered: 2013-06-23
Posts: 15

Re: Eliminating grinding (v10 released)

Ludicrosity wrote:

As much as I am enjoying v10, I am also pulling my hair out. I've managed to kill myself while testing my own doggy labyrinth at least a dozen times so far. Each time I painstakingly reconstruct it, gather funds, etc. Then a simple slip of the finger - one space too far right/left and *poof* all gone. sad

I really need to be more careful.

Try setting up your house with chihuahuas since they have the same behavior as pit bulls. Just don't enter your safe or you won't be able to change them to pit bulls without a loss of extra cash. Get to the point where you're confident you can make it to your safe and then exit back out the front door. Then you can switch them out and get to your safe one last time.

Last edited by paciferal (2013-07-03 16:57:03)

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